Urban Industrial Mission
The Pioneer of Urban Rural Mission

by the Rev. Henry Aguilan


Highlights of activities of the Urban Industrial Mission (UIM) movement in the Philippines and Asia beginning in the mid-1950s, which later evolved into urban rural mission (URM), are provided to remember the organizing work of the past in order to better understand the present context and to discern appropriate strategies for the future.

1956: The United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) started a frontier ministry to the industrial community through the Committee on Industrial Life (COIL) with a full-time fraternal worker, the Rev. Richard Poethig of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The Rev. Henry Aguilan, who volunteered to serve as the COIL coordinator for the Southern Tagalog Conference, was the first pastor-trainee to take courses on labor unionism at the Asian Labor Education Center at the University of the Philippines. As a minister in local churches, he involved himself in the education program and organizing of local unions for dried and shredded coconut factory workers in Candelana, Lucena City, Lusacan and Tiaong - all located in Quezon Province.

1957:UCCP-COIL sponsored a national consultation and organized the Pastors and Seminarians in Industry program. These seminarians and pastors were sent for a one-month exposure program to work in factories and to live with the workers. This was followed by a week-long reflection and evaluation process.

1958: COIL participated in the planning of the first Asian Conference of Asian Clergy and Lay Leaders on Industrial Evangelism. This meeting, sponsored by the East Asia Christian Conference (EACC) - the forerunner of the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA) - was attended by more than 40 representatives from 16 Asian countries and observers from Europe and the United States.

1959-1964: COIL coordinated the Pastors and Seminarians in Industry program with the following church-related institutions: Union Theological Seminary, the Divinity School of Silliman University, the College of Theology at Central Philippine University and St. Andrew’s Seminary.

1965: The Interchurch Industrial Evangelism Committee was organized with the following representatives: Cipriano Malonzo of UCCP, president (chairperson of Mindanao Labor Federation); Jose Javier Jr. of Unida de Cristo, vice chairperson; Lilia Oblifias Ramos, executive director (secretary of Manila Community Services Inc.); the Rev. George Castro of the Iglesia Evangelica Metodista en las Is-las Filipinas or IEMELIF (Evangelical Methodist Church in the Philippines), treasurer; Ruth Prudente of the United Methodist Church, public relations officer; and the Rev. Henry Aguilan of UCCP, project director.

1966-1967: Seminars on industrial evangelism were conducted in key cities of the Philippines in the country’s four major areas: Baguio City in northern Luzon; Legazpi City in southern Luzon; Cebu City in the Visayas region; and Cagayan de Oro on Mindanao. The focus of concern was to challenge local churches, members of the clergy and lay leaders to become more involved in their respective contexts in view of the technological advances being experienced in their localities and throughout the country in general.

1968: The first Asian Conference of Urban Industrial Mission sponsored by EACC was held in Bangkok, Thailand, with more than 60 delegates representing about 18 countries. Previous participants to the 1958 Asian Industrial Evangelism Conference in Manila consider this as the second Asian conference since industrial evangelism was considered as the forerunner of UIM.

The Interchurch Industrial Evangelism Committee became UIM, which was an independent body. UIM was visibly involved in the struggle of the slums and urban poor in the Tondo Foreshoreland for land ownership.

1969: UJM became one of the divisions of the Commission on Social Welfare and Social Education (CSWSE) of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP). At this time, the Rev. Henry Aguilan became the executive director of CSWSE and concurrently the director of UIM.

UIM was instrumental in the formation of the Philippine Ecumenical Council for C&mmunity Organization (PECCO), a joint venture of the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches that engaged in active community organizing among the more than 180,000 inhabitants of the 18-hectare Tondo ForeshOrelafld area who aspired to own this land and to prevent the government from converting it into a garbage dump, or "Smoky Mountain" as it came to be called.

1970: UIM negotiated with the United Church of Christ (UCC) in the United States for a full-time fraternal worker to serve as a community organizer and trainer, and the Rev. Herbert White was appointed. The Zone One Tondo Organization (ZOTO) was established under the sponsorship of PECCO and provided a training ground for its community organizing efforts. With this accomplished, the aspirations and vision of the poor for the eventual ownership of a piece of land rekindled a new sense of awareness in them - one that symbolized not only their desire to own a plot of physical property on earth but also to eventually be co-owners of God’s Creation. The struggle for land ownership was the people’s power, and this could be achieved only through genuine people’s organizations (POs). Initial trainees -church workers, nuns and deaconesses - were members of both the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches. The popular training program was known as Community Organization or CO.

The EACC-UIM Committee met in Manila, and in partnership with NCCP-UIM, made arrangements with PECCO to accept Asian trainees for its CO program. NCCP-UIM took responsibility for their immigration requirements while they were in the Philippines.

1971: NCCP-UIM established a network of contacts with labor groups, farm workers, peasants, small farmers and fishermen to meet the CO training needs of their leaders. PECCO experienced an influx of applicants for the CO training program, which was compounded by the participation of several trainees from other Asian countries.

1972: NCCP-UIM was soon under surveillance by the military. It was labeled as a subversive organization and outlawed when martial law was imposed by the dictatorial rule of Ferdinand Marcos on Sept. 21. Some NCCP member churches accused UIM of wittingly, or unwittingly, being infiltrated by subversive elements in the program.

1973: UIM became URM as NCCP sought to reflect the movement’s heightened commitment to involve itself in issues affecting rural areas, such as cultural communities, peasants, small farmers and farm workers. An issue upon which URM focused was the dislocation of poor families caused by the widespread entry of transnational corporations (TNCs).

CSWSE was also renamed the Commission on Development and Social Concerns (CDSC) before the consultation on development in the town of Angono, and CCAUIM became CCA-URM as well.

1974: A NCCP-URM meeting was raided while participants were still assembling at the rented house of the Rev. Paul and Didi Wilson on June 24. Those arrested were Dr. Dante Simbulan, Bong Malonzo, Paul Wilson, Ricardo Santiago and NCCP janitor Rafael Galeogan. Those arrested inside the residence were the. Rev. La Verne Mercado, NCCP general secretary; Nellie Mercado; Jean Santiago; and the Rev. Harry Daniel, former executive secretary of CCA-UIM and at the time the associate secretary of CCA, who was staying at a church-related guesthouse. Within a six-month period, all of those arrested were released.

1975: URM coordinated the visit of lawyers sent by Amnesty International to interview political detainees and ex-detainees in order to document the ongoing violations of human rights under martial law.

CDSC was reorganized with the following divisions: URM, Rural Life and Agricultural Development, Family Ministries and Church World Service. This structure remained until 1982.

1976: NCCP-URM declared that PECCO should cease to operate because of differences of understanding about the philosophy, methodology, involvement and participation between Roman Catholic and Protestant representatives on the PECCO board. The split gave birth to the Philippine Ecumenical Action for Community Empowerment (PEACE), a continuing Protestant program on people’s organization for the empowerment of the exploited, oppressed and marginalized Filipino masses. The Rev. Tonibio Cajiuat was its first project director.

1977: CDSC-URJM participated in a joint venture with the Roman Catholic Church’s National Secretariat for Social Action (NASSA) to form the Basic Christian Community-Community Organization (BCC-CO). A set of common guidelines was prepared, but implementation was initiated separately. Thus, BCC-CO was integrated within CDSC - a program of action that was fully implemented from 1978 to 1981. The central feature of the program was to build social awareness or conscientization and the total human development of people, especially the poor, deprived, oppressed and marginalized, through CO based on the prophetic teachings and ministry of Jesus Christ. In Luke 4:18, the Gospel says:

"The spirit of the Lord is upon me because He has chosen me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed and to announce that the time has come when the Lord will save His people."

1980: A National URM Consultation was held. Once more it expressed its mission and concern by advocating that the NCCP Executive Committee approve Action 80-41:

"Resolved that URM assume a more active role in rallying the people of God for the liberation of the Filipino people from poverty, alienation, degradation, exploitation and oppression, and at the same time, working for his [sic] fullest development spiritually and materially, socially and politically, educationally and culturally."

The Rev. Leonardo "Ding" Morada was appointed coordinator of NCCP-CDSC/URM.

The Asian Consultation and Workshop on URM was held in Quezon City. The Rev. George Ninan, who succeeded the Rev. Oh Jae-shik as CCA-URM executive secretary, attended.

1981: URM defined the rationale for URM’s existence and tasks because of differences of understanding about URM and its relationship with all sectoral groups that were fully involved in the struggle for people’s liberation from poverty, exploitation and oppression.

In conclusion, I would like to note that two official members elected by CCA to serve the CCA-URM Program Committee were the Rev. Henry Aguilan from 1969 to 1978 and Dr. Levi Oracion from 1979 to 1985. Both of them contributed to the theological and practical perspectives of "living in Christ with the people" and for the total deve lopment of people as active participants in decision making and in determining their future and destiny.

(Ed. note: This historical overview of the urban rural mission [URM] movement in the Philippines and Asia over more than 25 years was shared at the Philippines URM National Consultation, August 1994, Quezon City, Philippines.)